From Canon to Leica or how I got back to the essence of photography

Zenit-E Moskva 80 Edition with Helios 44-2 lens
This is going to be interesting.

Let me start with some background. When I was a little kid I got obsessed with variety of objects- from very well made toys to some of my father's technical tools. One of them happened to be Zenit-E camera with Helios 44-2 lens. Do not have a clue what brought me to it but I am glad I did notice the camera. Although it was way up in the drawers I always managed to get to it.... persistent little fellow my mother would say. So I started playing with it and actually using it without a film. One thing you should know about those cameras is that they are not very reliable. So it happened. The loading mechanism for the film that is used to turn to the next frame jammed. Off course I was appointed to be the cause of the issue and not simply the fact that the camera was unreliable.

So years passed my father bought another, more sophisticated Zenit SLR camera with auto metering. I did used that one too but actually to take pictures and some I still have. The second one turned out to be unreliable too ... with the same issue! I was so disappointed but moved on and found something else to improve myself into- computers…
Sony W5
Years pass again and just before my daughter was born I got myself a small Sony W5 camera. I thought it will be a good moment to have a camera to take pictures and videos of the new born. I used that one a lot and even though it was a small camera you actually had all the controls of the big ones: ISO, Shutter speed, Aperture, White Balance and etc. It did a great job sealing some very nice memories. I still have it but nowadays my daughter uses it to make funny pictures with her friends.

And here come the Canons.

We move to US in 2007 and in 2009 I wanted to get into photography a little more, which meant I had to get a little more technical about the camera and the technics used in photography. At that time I worked in a big store chain that became a victim of its own greediness and stupid CEOs. Anyway, I had the time and variety to check quite a bit of cameras. I end up liking how Canons were made to work- easy to control with two wheels and very good to hold. I got Canon 40D and it came with 28-135 kit lens. I started getting more and more technical and got some very nice and some quite expensive lenses for it. I did not liked the full frame cameras as there were no good lenses for them. The only exemption to the rule was Leica M cameras but a this point they were just out of my price range. A friend of mine mentioned it back in 2005 and since then one of my eyes was always at Leica cameras. Anyway back to the Canons. All lenses performed well on APS and almost none performed well on full frame. So I sticked to APS sensors. This camera was quite nice and I liked it but what I did not realized was, it was getting me away from what brought me to photography- simplicity, ISO-Aperture-Shutter, roll the film and shoot.
Canon 70D with Leica Summilux-R 50/1.4
After 5 years it was time to update the old body with a new one because I got more involved into marketing the company I worked for which sometimes included printing huge posters and the 40D 10MP sensors was not enough. I got the Canon 70D which was supposed to be a huge thing and actually it was a huge hype! At the same time I got my self a little more artistic lens which was again a big disappointment. This was the 50mm Canon USM 1.4. The 70D just could not get the focus right bellow f2. At 1.4 you might get 3 out of 10 shots if even that much. On top of this there was just huge color aberrations when high contrast edge was shot (check out more here). Also the photos just came somehow flat. All in all I did not like 50/1.4 Canon lens… SOLD!
Zenit-E Moskva 80 Edition

Wake up call

At this point the hate for the miss focusing Canon 70D was building up. I wanted simplicity and they gave me packed with useless gizmos junk. Instead of putting the money into making the quality higher they waste it for LCD screen and tons of menus nobody uses- I had all the functions sorted in favorite menu which is like 6 positions. This is where I really started considering the Leica M camera. I read all the articles on different websites about Leica M. Leica M was small, full frame, and very simple to use. Still it was far beyond what I could afford but I wanted it really badly. A good friend of mine was making a good laughing point that with the Canon and the 24-70mm or 70-200mm lens people were noticing me immediately and running away from me once I put it up. One of his favorite jokes about it was that it will scare an old ugly rhino when pointed at it. It was true, people where just giving you that strange not approving look. It just started to not work for me.

My cousin was coming back from Europe a month after I got the Canon 70D, so I told my mom to get to the top drawer and give the beloved Zenit E camera to him. Yes, 25 years later I knew exactly where the camera was. Something was telling to get it. So she did with a little amusement why I wanted the old broken thing. Once I got it I loved it. The old thing brought me back to my childhood. I was playing with it like a little kid with a new toy. Not only that but I loved how it was made- just phenomenal! The lens was moving very smooth the whole lens and camera were metal and glass. It had the depth of field range on the lens. The knobs were crafted in superb way too. I simply loved it and the camera fit just perfect in my arm. I thought to myself- it would have been awesome to be able to actually use it. So I did... partly. I bought an adapter for the lens to fit on my Canon 70D. The lens is Helios 44-2 which is a 58 mm f2 lens. Once the adapter arrived I put it on and went out for some test shots. I have read actually that people were looking for this lens because it had superb sharpness in the center and very very nice bokeh which at some cases was swirly! It is worth mentioning that this lens is like $20-$60 on online and has no color aberrations at all! Color rendition... well check for your self bellow.
Swirly bokeh
Helios 44-2 on Canon 70D
That was it. This little old broken thing from my childhood made me re-think photography and what it meant to me. At this point I just realized how over priced all the junk from mass manufacturers were. So I started looking around for a better 50 mm lens and it turned out they were all very bad which the exception of Leica lenses which were superb even when they were 40 years older. And that is how I got myself Leica 50mm Summilux-R 1.4. This lens is something else! Nothing like the "EL CHEAPO" junk from Canon, Nikon and Sony. The lens was 44 years old and was outperforming absolutely everything on its way. The craftsmanship of the lens was top quality. After 44 years the lens was performing like brand new.
Leica Summilux-R 50/1.4
The mechanics are smooth, the body is all metal and glass, it has depth of field scales, the hood holds the filters, the shots were quite different and not flat, much less color aberrations and etc. There was a little drama with the focusing on the Canon 70D but I got an adapter that enabled the focusing inside the viewfinder of the camera. Still the focusing on the newly introduced 70D did not work quite well so I had to calibrate with micro adjustments which helped but did not cure the issue. The problem is that the focusing inside the viewfinder is flat 2D. It will blink/indicate when you are in focus but you really do not know where it focused for sure. This was not only applying to the Leica lenses. The Canon 70D had issues will all other including their own. There is just simply no way to be 100% sure that what you shot was in focus so you had to constantly verify on the LCD your last shot. This insecurity on the new body I did not like at all. The only way to be 100% sure was to use the LCD but this was impossible without a tripod. I even considered some range finder style focusing screens but thought it is just not worth it. The old boy (Zenit-E) was sitting behind on my stand and looking with amusement how lost I was.
Ants nest shot with Summilux-R 50/1.4

Leica M - a Dream to come true

Leica Elmarit 24/2.8
At the end of 2013 I got another Leica lens, Elmarit-R 24/2.8 lens, and sold my 24-70 f2.8 Sigma lens. I was slowly turning into fixed lens photography because it made more sense to me. Fixed lenses are more accurate and much smaller than zoom lenses so they are perfect to shoot on streets and events. Fixed lenses helps you stay incognito so If you really knew what you are going to shoot then it was the perfect choice. Also for short distances like the 50mm and 24 mm you did not need a zoom you can just move. I realized that zoom lenses are another distraction from simplicity.
final shot with canon camera
The last shot.... Miss-focus by a mile
One day I was walking downtown Charleston, South Carolina and a wonderful image appeared in my head. It was a small old car with 2 people inside and was moving slowly down King street. Immediately focused the camera and shot.... The result was that this was the last shot I made with Canon camera. The image was out of focus, it was good only for small size picture. I was pissed off and then decided I have to move to the one I was dreaming about since 2007- Leica M body camera. After a couple of days I did ordered it. It was a dream to come true. The new M (type 240) was perfect for me as I can process photos faster than a film and will work with my R lenses. 2 days later the M was at my door. It came in a very stylish packaging. Immediately opened it and went through the menus, adjusted the settings as I liked them and put the 50 mm lens on it. The settings has presets which took me 5 min to figure out. Presets helps switching from 50 mm to 24 mm lens preset very quickly. It is important thing as Leica has made corrections inside the camera according to the lens. If you do not have a 6 bit coded lens then you have to manually choose it in order to get corrections to vignetting.
First shot with Leica M
Leica M with Summilux-R 50/1.4 very first shot with no custom color balancing
The body of the Leica M is just perfect. Simple, small, light and very well made. It fits very nice in my arm. It is a piece of art no doubt about it. I am very particular about the tools I use at my work. I can not work with any tools just because they will do the job. My creativity is partly driven by the tools itself. I have a bond between me and the tools. I feel like if the tool was made with passion, that I can detect, it will become part of me or an extension of myself. Just like the brush of an artist is extension of his vision. I always wanted the best and this is by far the best full frame camera in the world. In my anticipation of the camera to arrive I actually spend some time developing 3 camera 3D models: Leica M, Canon 70D and Canon 5D Mark III. You can see why people look at you strange when you point those monsters at them. The Canon 5D is almost twice as heavy as Leica M. Size wise it is really pointless to compare them.

(Update) Check this video to see live comparison between Canon 5D and Leica M.
Leica M, Canon 70D and Canon 5D Mark III
Leica M and Canon 70D
For my R lenses to work in the best way I got the EVF2 viewfinder. It makes focusing like it is supposed to be done. One drawback is that it makes the camera taller and I have to take off the viewfinder every time I put it in a bag, but it gives me one of the best focusing additions there is- focus peaking. Essentially it works like any other camera today. It uses contrast to find where the edge is. The big difference is that it is 3D so it spreads across the image and uses the aperture reading to show you how far focusing extends. So in short I cannot miss a shot with it and I have not! EVF has another big advantage- it has 1x, 5x, and 10x zoom magnifications so you can see closer your object when focusing.
Leica M with 50mm Summilux-R 50/1.4 + Expodisk
Picture quality with R lenses is superb. Bokeh is phenomenal and really makes objects pop. Color rendition is good but if you need perfect colors use custom WB. Black and White conversions are very good.

The big sell

Canon 70D for sale...
Before I got the Leica M I had 2 Canon bodies, and 3 lenses other than the Leica R ones. I thought it will be nice to keep the 70D so I can use it for video. So I did for about a month. I just realized I would not use it at all no matter what! First the old 40D was sold, next the Canon 600 EX flash unit, memory cards, Tokina wide angle lens, 70D body lens and power adapters all went for sale.
Leica M with Canon 70-200 2.8 IS II
Even the big boy Canon 70-200 II IS 2.8 lens when on sale because I was able to substitute it for LEICA VARIO-ELMAR-R 80-200MM F4, brand new with a box. The problem with adapting a fully electronic lens to a manual body is that you cannot change aperture, cannot use the image stabilization. So it was kind of pointless to keep it so I sold it.
Leica Vario-Elmar-R 80-200 f4
I always try to be philosophical about bad situations, in a sense that in every bad situation you have to find the good side of it for yourself. There is one thing that I am very grateful to the Canon 70D- it made me make a choice I could not make otherwise. It annoyed me so much, at the end I hated it so much, that I could not stand it anymore. It was to the point I will leave the camera at home instead to take another disappointment from it. There is even more- I could never take any of the professional assignments I took after I bought Leica in my hands. That little voice in my head which kept doubting every single shot would not allow me to do any kind of job for money because I cannot disappoint people. This is how I am - if I cannot do it I better do not fool the person on the other side that I can. I am a perfectionist and I do things that way to the extend of my understanding. With Canon it was not possible. So in short I never regret the decision of moving to Leica and how could I.
Leica M with Summilux-R 50/1.4, EVF2 and lens hood with ND filter.

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